Volleyball Advances to C-USA Championship Game
Nov. 23, 2003
NEW ORLEANS, La. - Sophomore outside hitter Nancy Nellans (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph) hit a ball down the line for her 14th kill of the match to send the Memphis volleyball team (30-5) to its first-ever Conference USA Championship final with a 3-1 win over Houston (12-19), Sunday. The Tigers will face No. 2 seed Louisville at 7:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on the College Sports Network on DirecTV and will be shown on a tape-delayed basis on Fox Sports Net Chicago at 11 a.m, Nov. 25th. With the win, Memphis becomes just the second program in C-USA history to win 30 matches in a single season.
"The first two games were probably two of the best games the team as played as a whole," Head Coach Carrie Yerty said. "We knew that Houston would come back after the second game, we felt like our advantage was that we had fresher athletes than they did. They had two tough matches prior to this, but we expected a fight that third game. I think this win is a huge step for the U of M volleyball program and I truly believe the girls thought all along this was where we belonged."
The last two games and the first two games did not seem to belong in the same match. The Tigers came out and dominated games one and two, 30-19 and 30-22, but the Tiger defense went astray in the third game, getting a hold of just six digs in the third game, while Houston hit .379 compared to the Tigers' .098.
Both teams strung together runs in the early stages of the fourth game, as Houston led the game 12-10 before Memphis rallied back to tie it at 12 all. A Tiara Gilkey (Creve Coeur, Mo./Pattonsville) and Shella Neba (Aurora, Colo./St. Mary's) block gave the Tigers' their first lead of the game and Memphis seemed to have things more or less under control until Tiger errors and Cougar kills starting tooling out of play off Tiger blocks. When the Cougars tooled another kill to tie the match at 17 all, it capped a period of play that saw both teams tighten up.
"We played tense when it got close in games three and four and that was probably just due to our youth," Yerty said. "But our seniors stepped up, Shella was big with five blocks and hitting .240 and Brittany did a great job in some tough spots as well. And Heather Watts (Sandy, Utah/Skyline) was just a stabilizing force for us all weekend. I'm just so proud of this team and how far they've come."
But Memphis would use a pair of kills from Gilkey and Barnett to catch up from 23-22 down to moving ahead of the Cougars 26-24. The Cougars closed the gap to 26-25 on a kill, but then served up one of their 13 service errors to fall behind 27-25. A Nellans attack error after a long scramble on both sides again pulled it within one, but a Brittany Barnett (Dallas, Texas/Lake Highlands) kill was followed by one of the senior's four service aces to put the Tigers at game point, 29-27. A Fehi Tuivai (Kent, Wash./Kent-Meridian) attack tipped wide to allow the Cougars to fight off one match point, but the Nellans kill closed the game out 30-27 for the Tigers.
Gilkey would lead the Tigers with 15 kills, while Nellans added 14 and Barnett had 12. Neba added 10 to put four Tigers in double-digit kills and led the Tiger blocking game with five blocks. Nellans also led the defense with 13 digs, while setter Watts and libero Christen Clayton (Houston, Texas/Clear Lake) each finished with 10 digs apiece.
Kelly McAnelly led the Cougars with 18 kills, while Cinthia Piva added 10. Piva led all players with 18 digs, while Jaci Gonzalez finished with 10 digs.
In all, Memphis out-served the Cougars, racking up 10 aces compared to two for the Cougars. Houston outblocked Memphis 11.5 - 5, but hit .101 compared to a .132 clip for Memphis.
Memphis will make its first-ever appearance against the 18th ranked Louisville Cardinals in the finals, Monday, at 7 p.m. in Tulane's Fogelman Arena. Louisville has appeared in six C-USA finals, including the last five straight. The Cardinals downed Memphis 3-2 in the Elma Roane Fieldhouse earlier in the season.